Reflections on praying for our armed forces
By David Chandler, August 14, 2007
[Episcopal Life] The Book of Common Prayer has a familiar prayer that likely we have all prayed. It is titled "For those in the Armed Forces of our Country," and is on p. 823:
Almighty God, we commend to your gracious care and keeping all the men and women of our armed forces at home and abroad. Defend them day by day with your heavenly grace; strengthen them in their trials and temptations; give them courage to face the perils which beset them; and grant them a sense of your abiding presence wherever they may be; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
I confess that I struggle praying this prayer, on moral and theological grounds. Morally, it seems to me that any realistic assessment of praying for our troops necessarily entails a prayer that sooner or later those who are against our troops will be injured or killed. Morally, I have become my enemy in such a situation. I have adopted their morality. This is simply wrong, not an option. Put another way, as a Kantian in ethics, I must treat the enemy as an end in herself or himself, never merely as a means. To me that means they are of absolute value, regardless of any danger they may pose to me or my cause.
Dr. Chandler apparently thinks it is immoral to pray for the safety of our troops in harm’s way. As the wife of an Air Force pilot and the mother of a soon-to-be Army officer, I can tell you this makes my blood boil. I would love nothing better than for everyone to lay down their weapons and live in peace. However, as long as our troops are threatened I will be on my knees praying. How dare this man suggest that those who pray for the troops have sunk to the level of their foes! American troops are not out for military conquest. They are trying to help a nation establish freedom and security. It has been an imperfect operation, but all such undertakings are fraught with miscalculations. Our troops do not wantonly initiate violence. They respond to those who violently threaten and undermine the mission.
I agree we should pray for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan and for the conversion of those who seek to obstruct the establishment of democratic peaceful governments. However, I find no moral dilemma in praying for the safety of our troops and the success of their missions. I am very happy to say that our parish dedicates one of our Friday Holy Hours every month to pray for our Armed Forces. I am very sorry that the Episcopal Church chooses to highlight a point of view that discourages such prayers.